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Thanh Le (left) and Thuy Huynh wind transformers for battery chargers at Lester Electrical Monday, March 13, 2006. (DIOR AZCUY)

There comes a time for every golf cart to take a break, a time for floor-scrubbing equipment to enjoy a little downtime. Even a railroad-crossing signal has to stop and charge its batteries.

Companies that make those things have learned to rely on Lincoln’s Lester Electrical to help them get charged up.

Lester Electrical makes battery chargers and equipment for testing batteries. As a sideline, the company also makes water distillers for two Nebraska companies. 

The battery chargers range in voltage from 12 to 120, and in weight from less than 10 pounds to more than 300 pounds.

The battery chargers are primarily sold to manufacturers of vehicles for which they are used, and are usually marketed under the client company’s brand name, said Lester Electrical president James L. Carrier.

Others are sold to end users or dealers, as replacement units.

When the company started in 1963, its main customer was Cushman Motor Works, manufacturer of golf carts and turf care vehicles, among others.  Cushman closed its Lincoln plant in late 2002. 

But Lester Electrical has expanded its customer base significantly, and now is a net importer of manufacturing dollars into Nebraska. By the way, Lester Electrical still does business with Textron, Cushman’s owner, supplying battery chargers for vehicles made in Georgia.

Customers are all over the United States.   Through resales, Lester Electrical’s chargers end up with users worldwide, said Carrier.

Among growth markets for the company, Carrier said, is China. Lester Electrical has sent representatives to a golf industry trade show in China for two years straight, and will go back this year, he said.

Eventually, Carrier said, the company may start a factory in China that would build battery chargers for the Chinese market.

Lincoln is a good place to do business because, of its central location and the availability of a hard-working labor pool, according to Carrier.

He said the company is making the same number of items now with about 450 people as it did with 600 a few years ago.

“Every time we ask our people to do something, they step up and meet the challenge,” he said.

One field where it’s hard to find people is engineering, Carrier said. Lester Electrical likes to operate an engineering department of about 30 (slightly above the typical for a manufacturer of Lester’s size), but is somewhat below that now, he said. The company has recruited from beyond the Lincoln area, which Carrier said hasn’t been too difficult because of Lincoln’s quality of life.

“Lincoln does a good job of selling itself, once the prospective employee takes the time to look,” he said.

Lester Electrical stands out among competitors, Carrier said, by producing chargers more efficiently, and thus being able to quote a lower price.

“Quality is a given,” Carrier said. “Our quality reputation gets us in the door. After that, it becomes a price issue.”

While offshore manufacturers might make giving the best price a little bit tougher for Lester Electrical, Carrier said, the biggest challenge the company has seen of late has been a sharp increase in copper prices. Copper sold for 83 cents a pound in 2003, Carrier said. It’s now more than $2 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The company uses copper in a variety of charger components.

Customers say they’re comfortable putting their brand names on chargers made by Lester Electrical.

Club Car Inc, an Augusta, Ga. manufacturer of golf cars and other vehicles, has a passion for excellence, said Phil Gaffney, Club Car’s vice president for sourcing. Lester Electrical, he said, has served Club Car well over the companies’ 14-year relationship.

Elvin Beck has been doing business with Lester Electrical for more than 20 years, originally with a battery maker, and now with his own Savannah, Ga. company, National Railway Supply Inc.

“They’re very meticulous,” Beck said. “They make a great quality product.”

National Railway Supply distributes batteries used in railroad crossing controls.

It only made sense to continue the relationship with Lester Electrical after going into the new business, Beck said.

“When you find good people and products, you want to keep working with them,” he said.

Lester Electrical uses several production lines to make parts, and puts chargers together on five final assembly lines. Part-production processes include injection molding of plugs, carving sheet metal into cases, and soldering leads and other components onto printed circuit boards by two different methods.

On the final assembly line, several components and subassemblies come together, including the transformer, AC and DC cables, the electronic controller, fuses, capacitors, and the charger case.

The customer’s brand name is often screen printed onto the charger during the manufacturing process.

Jenny Tran is a team leader on the final assembly line. She said the company’s practice of continually developing new models has enriched her with steady learning opportunities.

Later this year, carrier said, the company will put out a new high-frequency charger, which will be smaller and lighter than older models that do the same job. Also on the drawing board is a battery monitoring system for lift trucks, which will allow the user to review a battery’s performance.

Reach Rodd Cayton at 473-7107 or rcayton@journalstar.com.

Lester Electrical Inc.

Address: 625 West A St., Lincoln.

Telephone number: (402) 477-8988

Ownership: owned by employees and directors.

Chief executive on site, title: James L. Carrier, president.

Number of local employees: 443

Products, services: Manufacture and repair of industrial battery chargers, battery monitoring modules and electrical specialties.

Company history: Started in 1963 by Lanny Carrier and Don Wilson, to supply battery chargers for golf carts made by Cushman in Lincoln. The company was named after another business Wilson owned. Initially, the company had four employees in a small plant near downtown. Moved to current location in 1965. Over the years, the company has expanded several times to its current 90,000 square feet. The product line has expanded to include chargers for aerial work platforms, floor scrubbers, powered wheelchairs, forklifts and other applications.

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